We often shudder at the thought that life will throw us a curveball at some point, something painful and unexpected. Something in us quite rightly resents pain, suffering and death because tribulation and affliction were never part of God’s design for humanity. They are a consequence of sin [Genesis 2:16-17]. Even then, when we imagine the trials we might face, we usually envision situations we can control or rationalise rather than senseless and unjust events which render us utterly powerless. This fear of helplessness often drives many of us to seek security in power, fame, wealth or status, even though we know they don’t guarantee immunity from adversity.
As a people group, Christians should be the least surprised by adversity. Jesus told us in no uncertain terms that we would face trials and tribulations in this world [John 16:33]. I’ll confess that that verse doesn’t make difficult seasons any easier emotionally, but the latter half is why I hope against the odds. Last week, I watched a legendary football coach discuss the quality he valued most in elite players. I expected him to mention any number of footballing attributes, but instead, he said: “perseverance”. He added that the ability to press on, undeterred by setbacks, was crucial in the success of elite players. He spoke as though it was a given that victory or success was never adversity-free. Therefore, a player’s mindset was just as important, if not more essential than their talents, in determining how much they achieved in their career.
The Bible has much to say about perseverance and the Christian walk. It describes perseverance as a product of suffering that subsequently produces character [Romans 5:3-4]. It also states that our ability to persevere in faith during trials perfects us and leads to maturity [James 1:3-4]. I’ve recently been reading the biographies of 18th and 19th-century revivalists and missionaries who endured the deaths of spouses, children and friends, persecution and rejection as they sought to spread the Gospel in heathen lands. Many of these men and women willingly suffered more hardship than I’ve seen anyone undergo in my lifetime. Yet, they unwaveringly kept their eyes on the ultimate prize [Hebrews 12:1-3]. They didn’t go looking for pain and suffering as they served God, but when it came, they remained steadfast and undeterred. Today, we rightly celebrate them.
Just as generations before us faced adversity, we will too. But those who believe in Jesus don’t have to fear trials and tribulation [Romans 8:33-37]. Our Lord went triumphantly before us and conquered every adversary we would ever encounter, guaranteeing our victory over them when we eventually face them. However, we must learn from Scripture how to stand in the day of adversity and establish that victory experientially in our situations [Proverbs 24:10, Ephesians 6:10-20]. A believer must be a student of God’s word to know what to do when the going gets tough. To paraphrase one of my favourite preachers: “You must pay the price to learn and obtain revelation you can bet your life on; there are no shortcuts”. However, this week, I want to share a few insights from the first half of 1 Peter 1, which I am bookmarking for myself.
Peter wrote his first epistle to Christians exiled in a foreign land. Therefore, it applies to every believer who is in the world but not of the world [John 17:14, 16]. The original recipients were confused and discouraged by the persecution they encountered because of their faith, and Peter wrote, urging them to stand firm. His first charge was a reminder that their experience was unfolding according to the foreknowledge of God [1 Peter 1:1-2]. It’s deeply encouraging whenever I remember that God knew every predicament I would face before He created me. So, even if I am surprised by them, He isn’t. He has also equipped me to overcome them [1 Corinthians 10:13, 1 John 5:4-5]. So, if I persevere, trusting in God’s promises and faithfulness, I cannot lose. Next, Peter reminded them that their trials were transient.
I can become engrossed in the present in a season of adversity and lose perspective if I get carried away by what I see [2 Corinthians 5:7]. Peter wanted these believers to avoid pessimism, so he pointed them to an imperishable, undefiled and unfading inheritance awaiting them in heaven, even as God’s power preserves them in the present through their faith [1 Peter 1:3-5]. He didn’t minimise the trials they were experiencing (something many of us often do). Instead, he reminded them of their hope and security in God in all circumstances and also gave their suffering meaning. With their attention on God and his promises, Peter invited them to view their predicament as experiences that test the genuineness of their faith and ultimately drew them closer to God [1 Peter 1:6-9]. As Paul reminds us, God can bring good from any situation for those that love Him and prioritise His purposes [Romans 8:28]. We will view our trials differently if we believe God can redeem them for His glory.
I recently heard someone say: “A god you could explain would be less than you”. I think he’s right. Moreover, Scripture calls us to embrace a God we cannot explain [1 Corinthians 13:9]. As Peter switched focus to how these believers should behave, he urged them to guard their minds [1 Peter 1:13]. Few things cause us to doubt God as unexpected adversity. Consequently, we must remain resolute in our conviction that God loves us and desires our best always so that we can trust Him even when we don’t understand.
The mind is the ultimate battleground for every believer because our victory isn’t established in the material realm until we attain it in our minds first. So, dedicate time to renew your mind in God’s word and discipline it to stay continually focused on Him, and you will invariably triumph over adversity [Isaiah 26:3].